Ah, 1985. The heyday of my role-playing days when games ran overnight and 36 hour marathon gaming sessions were de rigeur. This was a time of Call of Cthulhu, of superhero gaming, of the Pegasus Project and Rolemaster. Good times.
I hated AD&D. I hated it’s stupidity, it’s flawed rules and idiotic limitations. I didn’t like it’s Non-weapon Proficiencies and it’s “TSR is right, you’re all wrong” attitude. I liked my old-school red book D&D, or Rolemaster. One offered a bright, optimistic dungeon-crawling fantasy, the other a city-based urban fantasy where the unexpected was the norm. We played them both, and AD&D just didn’t fit in.
RPG books were, as a rule, large format and soft-cover. Many products were still sold in boxes with pull-out maps, counters and other goodies. That format looked set to stay forever.
Then along came Dragon Warriors.
In a sea of Big Books, Dragon Warriors was strange. It was trade paperback sized. The first book contained just two classes – Knights and Barbarians – a bestiary and all of the rules needed to both play and GM the game. It even contained a complete adventure. This was unheard of for a fantasy RPG. Tradition – ie, AD&D – dictated that the GM, Players guide and Monster Manual be separate tomes. To think otherwise was clearly madness.
Yet here it was. no doubt inspired by the success of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, Dragon Warriors offered a decent gaming experience in paperback form. The rules were simple, easy to learn and consistent. Ironically, the core game mechanic revolved around a d20 (or 2d10), much like the current incarnation of D&D. Combat involved rolling less than the difference between your ATTACK score and your opponent’s DEFENCE on a d20. For example, if your ATTACK is 12 and you opponent’s DEFENCE is 5, roll less than 7 (12-5) and you’ve hit. It’s the same rule for dodging things (EVASION vs. SPEED), magic (MAGICAL ATTACK vs. MAGICAL DEFENCE) and pretty much everything else. It was easy to learn, and smooth to implement in-game.
Book Two added magic to the mix offering two more classes – Sorcerer and Mystic – more creatures and more adventures. Book Three gave more adventures and a few more rules for higher level characters. Book Four detailed the Assassin class and fixed the only omission in the game by adding STEALTH and PERCEPTION stats. Later books provided a whole gameworld – Legend – and yet more adventures.
What really made the game great were the adventures provided in the books. In total Books 1-4 supplied ten complete adventures that ranged from simple raid-the-wight’s barrow to complete inter-linked quests. They were all brilliantly written and conceived, and could stand among the best role-playing scenarios even written.
To a gaming group used to the mathematical intricacies of Rolemaster and HERO system, Dragon Warriors was a breath of fresh air. It provided countless hours of entertainment in a portable form. And that, really, is what role-playing is all about.